Touching Strangers
November 10, 2008 6:11 AM   Subscribe

"When my friend Richard Renaldi showed me the first images from the new series Touching Strangers I was just amazed. Asking two complete strangers to not only pose with each other, but to also touch each other while doing that... And this in a culture whose discomfort with touching someone you don't know, or touching something that someone else might have touched still baffles me, even after having spent almost ten years in it!" - A Conversation with Richard Renaldi about 'Touching Strangers' posted by chunking express (22 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
It's an interesting set. In some you can see a real sense of intimacy, despite the fact you are dealing with two strangers. In others, you have people touching with their wrists instead of their hands, etc. I really like this whole idea for a project.
posted by chunking express at 6:12 AM on November 10, 2008

I don't get the logistics. Oh wait, the conversation link talks about that.

His own hesitation also brings up the subject of the photographer. In what sense is the photographer and/or camera "touching" the subjects in these pictures and affecting their body language and attitude? But in fact the camera would be "touching" them even if the subjects were solo.

I wonder if there are any pairs of photos done where one image is when the subject isn't aware they are being photographed but in the other image they are.
posted by DU at 6:26 AM on November 10, 2008

DU, he briefly touches on the idea you bring up when talking about his Bus Travelers project. He was shooting with a view camera, which is one of those big beasts that takes 8x11 negatives. I don't think he'd be able to sneak of shots without people noticing -- at least not with that set up. (It'd be cool if he had a little camera for doing that while he was setting up the shot with his giant camera.)
posted by chunking express at 6:43 AM on November 10, 2008

Body language says a lot.
posted by rageagainsttherobots at 7:01 AM on November 10, 2008

Brought to you by Acme Cootie Spray.
posted by [NOT HERMITOSIS-IST] at 7:02 AM on November 10, 2008

These are very interesting. The body language in this one for instance- you can see that the white guy is uncomfortable, awkwardly twisted, touching with the wrist (avoiding skin to skin contact) and his hand in a fist. The black guy meanwhile is leaning forward in an almost agressive posture, just keeping a slight distance from the side of the other, his other arm held behind.

Then we have this one. You'd think the older guy would leap at the chance to touch this pretty girl in the bikini. But again, it's wrist contact, with the other hand in a fist. Meanwhile although she is leaning in (probably at the behest of the photographer), she is avoiding touching her thigh or side against his.

In general hard bony parts of the body are 'acceptable' touch points. Sensitive or bare flesh contact is avoided. In that context, pictures like this or this one are extraordinary. In the first one, her hand is on his chest, she would be able to feel his heartbeat. And do you wonder if the guy was thinking to himself (my shoulder is touching her breast, my shoulder is touching her breast, it is touching...)? In the second one, the two guys almost seem related. Note the causal couple of fingers touching the guys forearm- that's such a relaxed, natural gesture.

Overall, given that we are also 'strangers' to these subjects, it's very easy for us to imagine ourselves in their situation, and to realise the intimacy of our own body space as a result. You can get a sense of being touched yourself, and your own social stance, all of which is a sign of good art.
posted by leibniz at 7:23 AM on November 10, 2008 [4 favorites]

Lot of the time, with dogs, you can just go up and give 'em a big hug and a scritch and they'll be delighted. I mean, you wouldn't find me looking all flinchy and wooden like some of these people do.
posted by Wolfdog at 7:38 AM on November 10, 2008

First picture is of a guy I used to work with. Although he was pretty awesome: funny, interesting, eclectic, etc. He wasn't the kind of person who would randomly touch someone, nor enjoy being randomly touched. I think this picture captures that sentiment perfectly.
posted by Freen at 7:47 AM on November 10, 2008

Hmm, my first comment got deleted (which was mostly about pointing out the correct link). I also said I thought people looked really awkward.

Interesting spread.
posted by delmoi at 7:48 AM on November 10, 2008

In general hard bony parts of the body are 'acceptable' touch points. Sensitive or bare flesh contact is avoided.

- Extract from the Martian Government Guide 67000/EI/2a - '100 Useful Facts About Earthling Behaviour'
posted by Phanx at 7:50 AM on November 10, 2008 [10 favorites]

I'd love to see this project extended to the Mediterranean or the Middle East. I imagine the physical contact would look more genuine to Western eyes but there'd be subtleties there that we'd miss.
posted by Dragonness at 7:56 AM on November 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm not touching this one (even though I know where it's been).
posted by Eideteker at 8:35 AM on November 10, 2008

From the interview: For those first photographs, I asked for the least amount of touching possible because I was not yet comfortable myself with this new way of working. I did however start thinking more about what I wanted to elicit from my subjects, and I studied a lot of portraiture of friends, family, and lovers together, from the 19th century in particular. As a result I became more aggressive in what I would ask the strangers to do with each other. I am still working on this and looking forward to seeing where it will take me...

It's interesting that he chose an earlier notion of contact and association through pictures. Giovanni and Deborah have something of more romantic, almost passionate feel, though it's not clearly felt from both sides. But with some other pictures, you wouldn't know they weren't a couple or just another happy family.

I liked seeing the pictures before reading the story. Sometimes I'm too drawn to the artist's intentions, not trying to get my own take first.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:51 AM on November 10, 2008

i don't get whats so weird about it? if they were naked or something it would be interesting...

the minimal contact in most of those wouldn't make me uncomfortable.. you bump into strangers more than that on the tube at 6pm
posted by mary8nne at 9:10 AM on November 10, 2008

it certainly brings to mind this assignment ("take a picture of strangers holding hands") from miranda july and harrel fletcher's learning to love you more.

the site doesn't really list dates for things, but the first response was from september 2003.
posted by wreckingball at 10:31 AM on November 10, 2008

What makes me uncomfortable is
a. imagining myself in their shoes and having to decide how close to get, and during the shot, thinking about how they can feel my skin heat, as I can feel theirs, and wonderging what they are thinking, whether they would rather not be touching me.
b. seeing how uncomfortable some of them are, only touching with a wrist, or pretending to touch but not leaning on, or leaning away, and trying not to show how uncomfortable they are.
posted by b33j at 1:13 PM on November 10, 2008

it would be interesting to ask the people in the photo a few questions separately afterwards - particularly what they felt about the stranger they posed with, and then compare those impressions with the way they posed for the picture.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:42 PM on November 10, 2008

Reminds me of my prom photo.
posted by Skwirl at 1:48 PM on November 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

i don't get whats so weird about it?

I didn't read the article - the wonderful pictures were enough - where perhaps the artist goes into detail about why this is "weird" (more like "interesting"), but there is a significant difference between bumping into strangers on the train and actually intentionally making physical contact with a stranger in order for another stranger to take a photograph. My own reaction would be much like this:

Photographer: Hello, sir? I am working on thees art project, using my camera. Here is my card. May I take photo of you?

Me: Uhh...what kind of photo?

Photographer: Do not worry - nothing weird!

Me: Well, I guess...what do you want me to...should I stand over...?

Photographer: Fine, fine, that ees fine! Also you must put your arm around thees sweaty man with no shirt. You do not know him. He is called Barry.

Me: ...

Photographer: I see you have an ice cream. It is hot today, yes? I think it would be a fine thing for you to both lick it. At the same time.

Me: The fuck?
posted by turgid dahlia at 2:18 PM on November 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

The pictures are nice enough, but I don't like the effect of flattening the depth and making everything seem more toylike. Just step away from the Photoshop.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 4:33 PM on November 10, 2008

That's not Photoshop. Renaldi shoots with an 8x10 camera which gives a particularly short depth of field. I saw him speak last Spring. He's a really interesting guy. One of his recent projects (which I think he mentions in the interview) was a series of portraits of people in Greyhound stations across the country. Those portraits are included in his book Figure and Ground.
posted by Drab_Parts at 5:51 PM on November 10, 2008

this is fantastic!
posted by SheMulp AKA Plus 1 at 10:38 PM on November 10, 2008

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